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Column: A Worthington from Christmas past

Editor's note: The following column was originally published in the Dec. 13, 2003, Daily Globe. WORTHINGTON -- He was known by one name. Perhaps this is evidence that he was exceptional. He was Mr. Curran, John Curran, Coach. Out of his presence,...

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the Dec. 13, 2003, Daily Globe.

WORTHINGTON - He was known by one name. Perhaps this is evidence that he was exceptional. He was Mr. Curran, John Curran, Coach. Out of his presence, everyone just said, “Curran.”
It is a fitting time to recall a man of uncommon energy and showmanship because, finally, this becomes a tale from a Christmas season.
Curran’s story can begin with the time a curious, leather-covered, table-high something appeared in the gymnasium at Worthington High School. What is that? They call it a horse. What’s it for? Gymnastics. They do gymnastics on it. Whoa! We never had anything like that at WHS before. Along with the horse came parallel bars, a horizontal bar and rings suspended from the gym ceiling on ropes. Flying rings. Worthington had a gymnastics coach and, very soon, a gym team. The gym team/teams were spectacular to watch and out of the Worthington ordinary.
That was the first thing not usual that came with Curran.
The coach also was in charge of phy ed classes. These were years immediately after World War II. WHS had no track for relays.
Curran laid out an oval on the fairgrounds along Clary Street. He arranged with the City of Worthington to have cinders from Municipal Power Plant dumped along the oval. Then - who knows where? - he located one enormous roller.
In the spring, gym classes began pulling the great roller round and round the oval, crushing the cinders and shaping a track. Maybe 50 kids pulled at a time and they called themselves coolies. Curran laughed. It wasn’t orthodox exercise, but it was strengthening young muscles.
Note this: they were calling them gym classes now, not phy ed classes. Curran was shaping everyone into gymnasts. In a spectacular way.
He began planning gym shows which involved every student in a phy class. The shows packed Memorial Auditorium into the aisles.
One year, my class did sword dances. Sword dances took a lot of practice, a lot of squats and leaps and synchronization. There was more. If we were going to do sword dances, we needed swords. Shop classes were enlisted to turn out swords on jig saws.
Rough, dull wood swords would never do. Curran enlisted art classes to paint the swords. Black handles, silver blades. Then - you don’t dance to silence. The music department was brought in to provide Music to Sword Dance By.
This was just one class. Every class was doing something. Gym teams were performing. Shop classes, art classes, the music department became involved - plus home economics classes for flags and sashes, speech classes for providing commentary. I think Supt. E.A. Durbahn was drafted to introduce the show.
Curran’s gym shows involved all of WHS in a way never imagined, in a way never seen.
Then - probably the Christmas of 1947 - Curran announced through the Daily Globe that he wanted everyone’s old Christmas tree, perhaps by Dec. 27.
What was this? No one did anything with old Christmas trees other than put them in a burning barrel at the back of the lot.
The trees were collected. I do not know the logistics, but they were set up quickly to create a pine forest off the frozen beach of Chautauqua Park. Curran was doing a Worthington Christmas Ice Show.
There was special lighting. Don’t ask where that came from, or how it came to be set up. There were special costumes. Music.
Mrs. Curran skated with her husband. They were a handsome couple, not tall but lithe and practiced. Worthington could scarcely appreciate the axles and lutzes and combination spins. No one had seen anything like these before, either.
Of course it was not just Curran. Where had he rounded up all those kids and put them through their drills?
I remember Gaylord Garret. You would see Gaylord skating nearly any day after school, nearly any Sunday. You thought he was just a kid who liked to skate more than most kids.
Curran made Gaylord one of the ice show stars. Gaylord had not just been skating, he had been learning maneuvers on skates we could not believe.
Ice shows, gym teams and gym shows, a relay track. They came with Curran and largely left with him, oh - early 1950s.
A great long time ago, a funeral home somewhere sent the Daily Globe a one-paragraph notice. Curran had died. He is gone now, but he was something.

Related Topics: CHRISTMAS
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